Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Brass Beetle, Cardiff cocktail bar and pizza restaurant review

Whitchurch Road has had a renaissance. When it comes to indie places to eat and drink it can more than hold its own against more fashionable parts of Cardiff like Roath, Canton and Pontcanna.

Here’s the evidence - killer French patisserie Cocorico, craft beer merchants Discount Supermarket and Pop ’n’ Hops, high end currymongers Mint & Mustard, French bistro The Pot, the trendy boozer Society Standard and gourmet burger bar Got Beef.

Case closed.

Bolstering this luscious line-up is Whitchurch Road’s latest arrival, The Brass Beetle, a wood-fired pizza restaurant and cocktail bar.

Whoever has done the design and branding knows their onions. The art deco logo combined with regal green, dark wood and brass detailing are super swank. And, the pizza oven that sits in the open kitchen is a beautiful beast.

The cocktail menu is concise but well-formed.

Mrs G kicked off with a Straight Up Mojito (£8.50), a refreshingly boozy twist on the classic that balanced well sour citrus, sweetness and mint fragrance. 

She followed it up with a Peach Gin & Tonic (£8.50) with loads of fresh fruit and the delicate aroma of rosemary. 

The Brass Beetle’s pizza menu features a range of interesting flavour combinations including sweet chorizo with hot honey and charred red peppers with cured egg yolk. There are also a handful of specials and sides on a blackboard. Desserts are a work in progress and should hopefully be added to the next version of the menu.

Both the pizzas we ordered were lovely; the crisp crust had a good chew, the base was thin and the toppings were generous in quantity.

Mine was topped with shreds of tender ham hock (£9.95), meaty wild mushrooms, a seriously savoury ooze of Perl Las, light tomato sauce and a scattering of parsley.

Mrs G’s was topped with soft roast cauliflower (£8.95), sweet caramelised leeks, parsley and nutty melted emmental. 

A stack of halloumi fries (£3.95) were crisp and golden with a soft and slightly chewy interior. They were accompanied by an enjoyably punchy jalapeno dip. 

A whopping side salad (£2.50) was a bit heavy on the rocket and light on dressing but was pepped up nicely by pieces of earthy beetroot, salty fronds of samphire and pink pickled onions.

I really liked The Brass Beetle; the serving team were charming, the pizzas were delicious and the cocktails kicked ass. They’re another very good addition to Whitchurch Road.

The Details:

Address - The Brass Beetle, 11-13 Whitchurch Road, Cardiff CF14 3JN
Telephone - 02920 623956

The Brass Beetle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A guide to Wales's Michelin-starred restaurants

Pogs. Panini Stickers. Trolls. Stamps. Pokemon.

Gotta catch 'em all.

Humans have a natural tendency to collect things and I’m no different.

Earlier this year I finally visited all seven of Wales’s Michelin starred restaurants. Whilst this "achievement" has hammered my bank balance over the last few years, I’ve eaten some really memorable meals from Wales’s very top chefs.

So, here’s my guide to Wales’s Michelin stars. Follow the links for my full reviews:

Sosban and The Old Butchers, Menai Bridge, Anglesey

Wales’s smallest Michelin-starred restaurant has just sixteen covers and gets booked up months in advance. The menu incorporates foraged ingredients and modern interpretations of classic flavour combinations in dishes like sour cream porridge with mushroom and bacon. 

Pork cheek tart with yoghurt, liquorice and sweet cicely
The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

The Walnut Tree is the least Michelin-starry of Wales’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Shaun Hill, one of the elder statesmen of British cooking, cooks dishes with bold flavours, unglamorous ingredients and straightforward presentation in an informal setting.

Pheasant pudding with sage and bacon
Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo, Denbighsire

From the floral curtains to the food, Tyddyn Llan is Wales’s most traditional Michelin-starred restaurant. Bryan Webb’s generous cooking sees classic flavour combinations cooked with French technique.

Hake with laverbread beurre blanc and samphire
Ynyshir, Machynlleth, Powys

Gareth Ward’s cooking pushes the most boundaries out of Wales’s Michelin stars with his Japanese influenced food that utilises plenty of pickles. I wasn’t fully sold on challenging flavour combinations like dark chocolate with shiitake mushroom but Ynyshir is the highest ranked restaurant in Wales in the Good Food Guide 2018.

Pork belly with black bean sauce
Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

With its pretty seafront location just outside Cardiff, Restaurant James Sommerin is the Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve visited more than any other. Sommerin’s cooking combines bold flavours with striking presentation. Highlights from a recent meal included venison tartare with cep and confit duck with artichoke. 

Venison tartare with cep and carrot
The Whitebrook, Monmouthshire

Located in rural Monmouthshire, this pretty restaurant with rooms is run by Chris Harrod, a chef that learnt his craft under the legendary Raymond Blanc. Harrod’s comforting food utilises locally foraged ingredients like mugwort, scurvy grass and lesser celandine.

Golden Cenarth dumplings with duck gizzard, salt baked turnip and sorrel puree
The Checkers, Montgomery, Montgomeryshire

Mid Wales’s Checkers is a family affair - head Chef Stéphane Borie is married to head pastry chef Sarah whilst her sister Kathryn runs front of house. This translates into a passion that radiates from every wooden beam of this renovated coaching inn. Borie’s gutsy French cooking delivers huge flavour and technique.

Pork belly with boudin noir

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Raby Hunt, Darlington - two Michelin starred restaurant review

Winning a Michelin star is a seriously impressive achievement. There are only 172 restaurants in Great Britain and Ireland deemed worthy of the accolade.

Most of these restaurants' head chefs will have trained in other Michelin-starred kitchens where they learnt the techniques and discipline to cook at the very highest level.

So, to achieve such greatness by teaching yourself is even more flabbergasting.

However, that’s what some of the very best have done including Heston Blumenthal, Raymond Blanc, Tommy Banks and James Close.

James Close is the chef-patron at the Raby Hunt, the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in the North East of England. A former pro golfer, Close’s only professional kitchen experience before opening the Raby Hunt in 2009 was doing a bit of washing up and chopping carrots. Within three years of opening the Raby Hunt, Close had picked up a Michelin star. Pretty. Frigging. Impressive.

Our meal at the Raby Hunt was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

The fifteen course tasting menu (£90 Wed & Thu, £95 Fri & Sat - the only option available at dinner) utilised seasonal ingredients cooked with masterful technique. None of the dishes were overcrowded but instead they showcased a few elements that harmonised perfectly. There was also a superb flow to the meal with each dish feeling like a natural progression.

It’s worth noting the Raby Hunt are uncompromising when it comes to catering for vegetarians and fussy eaters. There is no vegetarian tasting menu and no ingredient substitutions.

Our first snack was a crisp cod skin cracker topped with pearls of salty caviar and fragrant Amalfi lemon rind shavings.

A pair of Mexican inspired snacks followed.

Meaty raw scallop was joined by the fresh flavours of lime, coriander, jalapeno and radish.

The dinkiest of crisp corn tacos was stuffed with sweet crab meat and well fragranced guacamole.

A duo of oyster dishes were up next.

A crisp potato puff contained a creamy ozonal oyster emulsion and was topped with a fine dice of potato with a punchy herbal hit of lovage and the warmth of tobasco.

A plump, tender, briny cooked oyster was elevated by fragrant dill oil, cleansing cucumber granita, diced cucumber and warming British wasabi.

A crunchy Jerusalem artichoke skin was filled with two temperatures of duck offal; shavings of frozen creamy parfait and a hot, deeply meaty ragout. A berry puree on the bottom of the artichoke cut through the richness of dish.

Slices of the tenderest razor clam were served in the shell with buttery Morecambe Bay shrimp, crunchy almonds, a velvety celeriac puree, earthy girolles and salty samphire.

Almost spreadably tender Wagyu beef tartare was accompanied by pearls of caviar, a punchy basil emulsion, crisp cracker pieces and capers. This was a stunning dish but we felt it was a touch over-seasoned due to the saltiness of the caviar and capers.

A gorgeously fresh spring salad included leaves, beets, radishes, edible flowers, crispy kale, courgette and asparagus. Some of the vegetables were charred bringing a smoky dimension to the dish whilst shiso dressing, beetroot puree and a super savoury scallop crumb completed the light plate of food.

Pan-fried squab pigeon breast and confit leg were joined by smoky barbecued radicchio, savoury anchovy emulsion, a squab pigeon reduction and an olive reduction. This was meat cookery of the highest quality.

Uber lovely warm chocolate mousse was balanced by a creamy sheep’s milk ice cream, a salty olive crumb and a crisp tuille.

A trio of lemon dishes followed.

Almond crumble, lightly fragranced fennel ice cream, potent lemon gel and an intense liquorice tuille all harmonised beautifully.

A weeny lemon doughnut was filled with lemon thyme jam and topped with a warming ginger sugar disk.

An ice cold cocoa cream shell contained a fragrant and intense lemon presse and was topped with yuzu gel.

The Raby Hunt’s chocolates have gained a bit of a reputation. I can understand why.

A white chocolate Buddah was filled with a solero-like mango and passion fruit ganache.

A skull contained a smooth chocolate ganache fragranced with raspberry and yuzu.

Our meal at The Raby Hunt was phenomenal. It’s the best food I’ve had in a two Michelin starred restaurant. The service was also super-friendly and we had excellent wines by the glass including an Alsace riesling and a Swiss pinot noir.

I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. It also means you get a trip to the North East of England aka the birth place of such brilliant things as Gregg’s sausage rolls, Byker Grove, Newcastle United, Geordie Racer and me.

The Details:

Address - The Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington, County Durham DL2 3UD
Web -
Telephone - 01325 374 237

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Milkwood, Pontcanna, Cardiff restaurant review

Milkwood in Pontcanna is one of Cardiff’s most significant restaurant openings of 2017.

It’s run by the trio of Tom and Cerys Furlong and Gwyn Myring, the winning team behind the highly-regarded Potted Pig and Porro as well as the Lansdowne and Grange pubs. Interestingly, the trio are no longer managing Potted Pig and Porro, a statement of intent that they’re now focusing their efforts on Milkwood.

The restaurant's ambition is evident in the menu of modern Welsh food with Italian influences. And in the airy dining room with a friendly serving team who were on the mark throughout our meal.

Warm rye bread twanged with carraway and laced with seeds was served with light homemade butter. It was lovely stuff that left me wanting another slice.

An amuse bouche of salty ham hock and sweet crayfish in a creamy soup was equally delicious. It was already evident by this point in the meal that Milkwood is taking things to the next level.

My starter of homemade tagliatelle with summer truffle (£8) was excellent. The slippery al dente pasta was heavily fragranced with fungus and covered with a good shaving of savoury cheese. 

Mrs G’s starter was equally tasty. A velvety curried cauliflower puree was topped with charred and spiced pieces of the brassica, shavings of raw cauliflower, sweet raisins, richness busting caper gel and warming mustard seeds. But, at £8 this was a stingy portion. There were barely more than three mouthfuls on a dish comprised of relatively cheap ingredients. 

Mains were both excellent.

A beautifully tender and flavoursome duck breast (£21) with well-rendered fat was joined by delicate tortellini filled with intense shreds of yielding duck, soft chicory topped with the crunch of hazelnut, sweet carrots and pan juices. 

My lamb cutlet (£22) was soft of flesh, crisp of fat and full of flavour. It was served with rolled lamb belly stuffed with rosemary fragranced mince, greens seasoned with potent anchovies and capers, and a meaty piece of aubergine.

Whilst both mains were delightful, the portions could have been more generous or the price-points a bit leaner.

In contrast, desserts were both beautiful and bountiful.

Two British cheese heroes (£9), funky Montgomery cheddar and super-savoury Colston Bassett stilton were served with a clever pickled walnut puree and golden seeded crackers. 

An indulgently rich salted chocolate ganache (£8) and light chocolate mousse were balanced by poached cherries, sharp cherry puree and cleansing milk sorbet. A milk wafer and chocolate tuille provided texture contrast. 

Dinner at Milkwood was first rate. This informal yet high end restaurant is a great addition to Cardiff’s dining scene. However, I’ll caveat that with my qualms about the portion sizes / price points. A refinement here and Milkwood has the potential to be one of Cardiff’s very best restaurants.

The Details:

Address - Milkwood, 83 Pontcanna Street, Pontcanna Cardiff CF11 9HS
Telephone - 02920 232226

Milkwood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato